Kelsey Cakes Boutique Adds Sweetness to Berryville

By Rebecca Maynard

Just in time for the holiday season, shoppers in downtown Berryville were treated to one more beautiful storefront, an elegant pink sign and a sparkling winter scene with trees and reindeer. 

The storefront of 11 S. Church St. belongs to Kelsey Cakes Boutique, which had its grand opening in December and already has many customers returning for more of their favorite sweet treats.

Owner Kelsey Mussett attended culinary school and has worked for Wegmans and privately owned bakeries, but she always knew what she wanted to do one day. “I had my own creative style, and always knew I wanted  to work for myself,” she said.

Mussett attended master classes in Alexandria with Maggie Austin, an internationally known pastry chef whose clients have included royalty. She has created custom cakes out of her home kitchen for several years and will continue to offer them for all occasions, including Valentine’s Day, birthdays and holidays. Customers should order cakes a week ahead for regular occasions, but wedding cakes should be booked six months out.

Popular custom cakes she has made include Sesame Street characters and a unicorn cake, and she is currently making for Valentine’s Day a strawberry white chocolate cake baked with white chocolate chips and layered with vanilla bean butter cream, freshly sliced strawberries, white chocolate ganache drizzle — topped off with a strawberry butter cream finish, white chocolate ganache drip, and hand-dipped white chocolate covered strawberries.

Everything is made fresh daily and from scratch, Mussett said. Her frosting is butter cream, never made with Crisco. In addition to custom cakes, she offers a variety of flavors of cupcakes, cookies, cookie sandwiches, brownies, mousse cups, tartlets and more.

For those who crave a drink along with their baked goods, options include hot chocolate, coffee, cake lattes, crème frappes and frozen cocoa.

As time goes on, Mussett looks forward to offering gluten free, low carb and vegan options, as well as pet treats, the proceeds of which she would like to donate to local shelters. She also plans to offer outdoor seating in the warmer weather and has invited a community panel of tasters to test out new flavors and ideas.

Mussett’s day begins in the early morning in order to provide fresh baked goods for the day, and she often works late into the night. Her mother, stepfather, and boyfriend have all been temporarily assisting in the store, and she has recently hired two employees. 

Currently, the bakery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from late morning to 6pm, and she hopes to be able to increase her hours soon and open on Sunday. Mussett is also working on a website, where she plans to include photos, tips on cake cutting and daily menu options.

While selling cakes from home, Mussett spent time examining possible locations for her store before finally settling on Berryville. 

“I love Berryville,” she said, adding that she now lives in town and can walk to work. “I knew I wanted someplace with old architecture, not a strip mall, and it’s such a charming town; it reminds me of a Hallmark town when it’s decorated for Christmas.”

She has also enjoyed interacting with customers and fellow business owners. “Everyone is just so nice,” she said.For information, visit the Kelsey Cakes Boutique Facebook page, email info@kelseycakes.com, visit www.kelseycakes.com, or call 540-955-8125.

Slipstream

By Keith Patterson

“It takes a big head to fill these shoes.” I think I just quoted myself. Dang. Did it again. It’s hard to be me. But it’s supposed to be hard. And it’s supposed to hurt. Because when you’re in the most pain is when you’re the most alive. And when you’re the most alive is when you might wish to be dead. And this basic disconnect is one reason that we must dull our senses to enhance our perceptions. Or so says I.

I like to make a wildly bold declaration and then spend some time creating a backstory that somehow justifies it. I put these thoughts down on paper. “M will say it right to your face. M realizes that saying it directly to your face is probably not his most endearing quality, so he puts a lot of miles on his motorcycle to cut down on 
his opportunities.”

The story of M

M downshifted his big Harley cruiser, checked his mirrors, and throttled up to switch lanes, jumping out from the shade between two eighteen-wheelers into the left-hand passing lane. There was sand dust on M’s shaded goggles from an open-bed dump truck he’d passed a few miles back. Interstate 81 was packed with big diesel rigs moving America, which made it less than ideal for a long trip on a motorcycle, but it’s the fastest way home up the valley. As M accelerated to pass the 18-wheeler to his right, the brilliant light rays of a newly naked sun reflected chaotically off the silicate dust coating his glasses, and a mirror ball of blinding lasers sent him into a slipstream of flash-back hallucinations . . . .

M was hiding in muck up to his neck in the monsoon rains of the Mekong Delta. He’d been out in the bush for nearly a month. His body weight at enlistment had been 195 pounds. He was down to probably 125. M had eaten very little for several days, and was completely out of rations. He was barely conscious, existing in shadow, invisible, quietly grinding his teeth to keep from drowning. His boots were mired in deep mud somewhere down below him. He heard the report of a rifle … CRACK!

Then, M was in a schoolyard fight, ducking, weaving, trying to keep his feet underneath him and throw a decent punch. There was one kid in front of him, but he was surrounded by fifteen others. The bull ring. No way out. Nobody coming to help. Worried about getting sucker punched, he let a straight jab sneak by while he was leaning-in. SMACK!

And, M is standing on the front porch of the beautiful log frame home that he and his wonderful wife had built together. Dinner was on the table. Clean bill of health. Feeling like he wanted to die. The storm door he’d thrown open slams shut. BAM!

M had a mission. Take the enemy’s radio and call in an air-strike. People had already died. More people were going to die. M could die. M was more sure of death than not. M was in the shadows behind the fronds of tropical plants with his Randall knife clenched in his left hand. Fifty meters away was his objective, a bamboo hut on stilts surrounded by a deck. M heard boots on the deck. STOMP!

One kid was in front of M, jabbing at him with his fists. Another kid crouched down behind M, and M tripped over him and fell to the ground on his back without being hit. The hit came after the fall in the form of a kick to the head. THUD!

M was in a small office talking to a staff psychologist at the Veterans Administration. It was a long drive from M’s home to the VA office. He had been waiting patiently for hours to see this psychologist. M was explaining about the debilitating nature of his flashbacks and hallucinations, and how, even then, some fifty years after the fact, the PTSD was getting only worse and was worthy of the disability claim that lay on the desk between them. The staff psychologist calmly explained that if M could ride his Harley all the way out to the VA facility and express himself so eloquently, then that alone effectively preemptively disproved his claim. “I don’t even need to look at your claim again.” M slammed his closed fist on the desk. BAM!

“Dinner is ready!” called out M’s wife from her summer kitchen. M was on the porch with the mangy cat. Tears were rolling off of M’s face and splattering down on the matted fur of the mangy cat as images flashed through his head of brothers-in-arms and civilians lost, crises created, deflected, diverted and perverted. The blood lust of allies and enemies and the senseless deaths and destruction that is war. The mangy cat had been dying when M and his wife had rescued it. It should have been dead weeks ago and hadn’t eaten in thirteen days and nights. It was a mean cat, and took exception to M‘s tears splashing down on its matted head. The mean, mangy cat that had no name because it was assumed that it would be dead already then attacked M’s leg and found 
flesh. YOW!

M was back on his feet. The two boys that’d flanked and felled him had receded. Next up was Lumpy Taylor. Lumpy had an extra lump on the back of his head. He was also known as Double Lump. M landed a punch and received two and then each kid landed haymakers simultaneously and chattered each other’s teeth. CHANG!

M peered into the enemy radio hut as best as he could from twenty meters out. He would have to break cover to get any closer. He prayed to a God that he did not recognize to give him the strength to mount a frontal assault on the guarded outpost armed only with his Randall knife and a cyanide pill. M’s soul was bound in darkness. There was no hope in life or death. The rain continued to fall. M used the darkness to summon his Chi. He was a wraith. Then M heard marching boots and shuffling feet. The enemy had a prisoner. The butt of a rifle crunched against bony flesh. UNGH!

 “Security! Room 202 Please!”

“Thanks for nothing!” M stood and grabbed his disability claim papers off of the desk. The VA staff psychologist tried to grab them, as well. “Oh, so now you’re interested in my claim?” M left quickly and slammed the door behind
him. BAM!

It was Christmas Eve. M’s aunt and uncle and cousins were coming over for dinner and a party. M had received an early present from the family cat, a box full of kittens! M could hardly wait to show the kittens to his cousins. They were so adorable. “M, you better not bring those kittens outside. It’s too cold. Leave the box in the basement near the furnace.” M didn’t listen. His cousins would want to see these kittens right away. 

It was 5 0’clock. The guests were due. M ran outside into a brisk twilight of falling snow with the box of kittens in his arms. M heard his mother call out, “Don’t leave the door open!” M set the box of kittens down at the edge of the driveway and ran back to shut the front door. M’s relatives pulled into the driveway and unwittingly parked the big left front tire of their Chrysler sedan squarely upon the box of 
kittens. CRUNCH!

Fran was M’s second wife. She had brought him back out into the light and he knew to his core that she loved what was best in him. They worked well together, believed in the same things and fought for the same causes. Fran was M’s partner. He knew that he’d sailed the seas of many creations to finally find this respite from the ravages of eternity. This was his Eden. His forgiving and loving Eve was by his side and calling him to dinner. M thought of grabbing the mean, mangy cat by the scruff and going on a one-handed hundred-mile-an-hour bike-ride to put them both out of their misery. The mangy cat looked M directly in the eye. “That cat knows what I’m thinking.” “Yeoh.”

The bull ring drew in close. Two boys dragged M back to his feet. Next up, Fox Wheeler. Fox was every bit M’s equal and had the advantage of not already being knocked half senseless. M tasted his own blood on his lips, wiped his lips with his hand, and beheld his own red life’s milk. A terrible rage ran up his spine and he made a furious rush at Fox Wheeler, who calmly looked for an opening and delivered an uppercut to M’s sternum. WUMP!

Alive or dead. It didn’t matter. Everything dies. Kittens, children, heroes, villains, the Son of God. The fathers, sons, mothers, brothers, sisters and children of the lovely and dignified people that live and work in the Mekong Delta. M was authorized to call in airstrikes on anything that moved in the entire province of Vinh Long. Half a million civilians. 6,000 Viet Cong. Kill ‘em all. M’s closest associate, a fellow colonel, had succumbed to the barbarism and was wantonly laying waste to all that piqued his fancy. 

He had done some damage to the enemy, but had inflicted a hell’s broth of horror on the civilians. M would’ve just as soon killed the Colonel as the radio operator in the bamboo hut. But M’s mission was to secure the enemy’s radio and call in an air strike that might very well kill them all. What had been M was already dead. All that was left was a killer on a mission. The sentries were changing. The second detail was late. The radio and operator were alone. Adrenaline shot through M’s depleted veins. He could hear the savage beating of his own heart. Thump! Thump! Thump!

Everybody was screaming and crying

Uncle jumped back into the big sedan and backed up. The box of kittens was stuck to the tire and rolled up into the Chrysler’s undercarriage. The kittens were all dead. M’s aunt was beating on her husband and cursing his name. Their marriage would never recover. Uncle turned off the Chrysler’s motor and it back-fired. BLAM!

M recovered his breath and stood tall in the middle of the bull ring. He was battered but not beaten, and rage still burned in his eyes. Next up was Big Timmy. Timmy was the biggest kid in school. M waded in, crazed and looking for 
a knock-out.

M’s heart was pounding in his chest as he prepared to rush the enemy’s radio-shack and attack and kill the radio operator. M heard American jets coming-in on a bombing run.

Big Timmy dropped M with one ham-fisted punch to 
the head.

M dove down into the muck as his own bombers laid waste to the radio shack and operator that he was stalking. SCRAK! White light.M upshifted and accelerated out of the slipstream beside the 18-wheeler on his right. The sun was behind some clouds and the road was clear, and M made it home for dinner, and I, for one, am grateful that he did. Because, even though it might not be his most popular attribute, when M has something to say he says it directly to my face. Then I wrote this down on paper.

Less Stress in the New Year

10 Ideas to Keep Stress at Bay

by JiJi Russell

Over the last ten years, I’ve worked with a colorful variety of people in the realm of wellness — many ages and backgrounds. If I had to choose just one concern that most, if not all, confront, it’s stress. My purely observational, unscientific opinion on stress and health is that if we can become better at managing stress, and in some cases avoiding it altogether, our collective health status would improve greatly. But stress can be such an amorphous, multi-pronged tangle of junk, both internal and external, that it can take a lot of real effort and commitment to pick it apart. Like the airlines’ inflight safety instructions state, however, take care of your oxygen first, then help those around you. Similarly, applying some effort to combat stress can help you while it ripples outward to others. If we could all dedicate a little time, compassion, and yes, effort, to the task of recognizing and managing stress, we will 
all benefit. 

Below are ten ideas that I’ve culled from many workshops, surveys, personal conversations, and other work I’ve done with clients and corporate employees in the service of reducing stress and/or improving resilience to counter stress when it arises. 

My suggestion is to select just one of the ten that might spark your interest, and try it out for a week or so. See how things go. Add on as you like, or concoct your own stress buffer techniques. Eventually, with some persistence, you will be able to make positive changes for yourself. 

1) Write down your worries and concerns once a day; get them “out of your head.” If your problems are on paper, then at least you can let them go for the moment, knowing you won’t forget them (goodness forbid it!). Writing things down can neutralize their power. It can also give you something to look back on, and, perhaps in some cases, to view your progress.  

2) Schedule “gaps” in your day, particularly at the beginning and end, as a way to power down your body and mind. Instead of booking yourself, your kids, your tasks in a back-to-back march against time, create some gaps when you can just sit or walk, and think about nothing in particular. Or perhaps use the gap as a little planning time to more wisely use your day. 

3) Get into the habit of taking a breath before you speak or act. Deep breathing has a real and measurable physical impact on you. It can calm your nervous system, relax your muscles, and bring better balance to your emotions. It’s never a bad time to take a deep breath. 

4) Find someone you admire for his or her ability to remain calm and balanced, and ask that person to be an advisor to you when you have a question or concern arise. I have several such folks in my life, even for different areas of life, including career stress, parenting stress, and many other categories in between. Seek these people out and talk to them. 

5) Take a two-minute breathing break before you log on to your computer, before you eat a meal, before you go to bed. Just 10 minutes of deep breathing a day can help. A tangent on the “taking a breath” and scheduling “gaps” suggestions, this one is an intentional moment of deep breathing. Put your phone on airplane mode; set a two-minute timer; and just sit and breathe. 
Benefits abound. 

6) Eat a satisfying breakfast that contains protein as a way to jumpstart your mental and physical energy and keep your metabolism “fired up.” You’ve heard the stats that kids who don’t eat breakfast are less able to concentrate at school and don’t perform as well as those who do eat breakfast. Well, many adults skip breakfast, too, and then hit the ground running with their overly-ambitious schedules. Put some thought into your first meal of the day. Give your body and mind what it needs to be you for the day.

7) Consider limiting or giving up “C.A.T.S.” (C = caffeine,  A = alcohol,  T = tobacco,  S = sugar). These are known to cause fluctuations in energy and mood. This suggestion always elicited a bit of scoffing in the corporate world, but because each of these edible items can either stimulate or depress the nervous system, using them can interrupt healthy sleep patterns, amplify cravings and dependency, and complicate other health conditions. If giving it up does not seem an option, think of cutting back more gradually, and see how you feel.  

8) Recall and re-visit a favorite activity or hobby. Doing an activity that brings you joy or allows you to be fully engaged in something uplifting, can have a very positive effect on your mental and emotional state. Making jewelry, fishing, photography, bird watching, whatever it is you used to love to do — do it again. 

9) Make of goal of getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Many people will argue that they don’t need as much sleep as the average person, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, that’s just not true. Humans need sufficient sleep for a host of good reasons, including cardio-pulmonary health, proper hormone function, healthy immune function, and many, many more. Of course, it might not be so easy to simply lie down and zonk out for eight hours. It might demand a good look at what it is that’s keeping you awake. Is it mind chatter; is it your desire to binge watch your favorite TV shows until midnight? What is the root of your restlessness, and how can you begin to right your course to better sleep? 

10) Make a cut-off time for electronic communications, and stick to it. You’ve probably heard about the “blue light” of electronics, which interrupts your brain’s ability to create melatonin, the hormone your body produces to help you feel sleepy and fall asleep at appropriate times (e.g., nighttime). Well, most functions of the electronics in our lives are stimulating, and stimulation is not what you need when your body needs sleep to reset and recover. Text messages, social media posts, emails, news … each of these things can stimulate mental activity, and, certainly, emotions ‑ not what you need at 9 p.m. 

One need not be a social scientist to predict that stressors will continue to abound in our human lives. We need to develop more resilience and compassion to ride the tides in constructive ways. These ten suggestions might lead you to discover something you can do for your own good in 2019. As with all things in well-being, it’s up to you. No one can do it for you. Cheers to your efforts toward a good cause!

Miraculous Starling Murmurations

Article and illustration by Doug Pifer

An enormous flock of starlings hung around our neighborhood two weeks before Christmas in 2017. One morning I decided to record a video from our bedroom widow of the flock assembling by the hundreds in our back paddock and yard. Masses of starlings performed in unison as the flock seemed to summersault along. Wave after wave of birds landed momentarily as those behind them flew over their heads and landed in front of them. 

Then, as if on command, the entire flock took off and flew past the window. The curving stream of birds swirled gracefully away in a continuous mass. The roar of their wings reached my ears where I stood inside the closed-up house. The flock darkened as it bunched, turned, and then lightened as the birds spread out and changed direction. It resembled a single organism convulsing and moving across the sky.

Originally coined as a collective noun meaning a bunch of starlings, “murmuration” now refers to a flock of hundreds, even thousands, of birds moving through the sky in a series of highly coordinated patterns. Other birds, including shorebirds and even common street pigeons, murmurate.

A quick search online reveals many dramatic starling murmurations. One article, posted by Barbara J. King on NPR in January, 2017, features a short but magnificent clip of a gyrating flock of starlings at Cosmeston Lakes in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales.

How the birds do this has been studied intensively by physicists. Over the past fifteen years it’s been pretty well determined that the synchronized movements of a murmurating, pulsating flock of birds is based on the speed, direction, and spatial orientation of just six or seven individuals flying adjacently. These individuals convey this information, which moves through the entire flock almost instantly. Various computer models and studies have managed to determine how birds murmurate and apply it to everything from film animation, traffic movements, and how quickly our own brains operate in relation to others

Much more is known about the “how” than the “why” of murmurations. Many naturalists have observed flocks of starlings murmurate when a predator such as a hawk or falcon attacks. I’ve seen a flock of starlings bunch together and zigzag when chased by a cooper’s hawk. Bunching tightly and then twisting and turning in unison makes it hard for the aerial attacker to pick an individual target, and the attacker gives up.

Other reported instances where murmurating flocks seem to attract predators complicates the predator avoidance theory. It’s recently been postulated that the passenger pigeon, which once roamed the Unites States in enormous, gyrating flocks, has become extinct because they needed the presence of very high numbers of their own kind in order to murmurate and survive. Could murmuration be essential to the survival of starlings?

Consider this if you see a murmuration of starlings!Illustration used courtesy of Pennsylvania State Game Commission.

Timothy Johnson, Small Town Lawyer

Pine Lake

A Hotly Debated Memoir by Keith Patterson

 
1966, Hello
Monkey Boy
Not every monkey has an uncle, and I can’t see Darwin or his detractors, either one, laboring to contest that fact. But each of us, from the free thinkers down, has a family. And every family has its fair share of secrets. And while money and stature can buy your family some time in terms of allowing certain secrets to remain hidden, eventually the truth always comes out. And just as the glamour and power of the Kennedys couldn’t conceal or be diminished by the factually-based myth of a defective cousin warehoused somewhere deep in the bowels of Hyannis Port, neither can the years of denial and obfuscation by members of my own family manage to obscure my memory of what I know that I saw one summer’s day in my youth at Pine Lake.
I don’t pander to mythos. Anybody with half of an imagination can testify to that. And even though my personal reality might be skewed by my unique perceptions, the fact is, I deal in hard realities. One hard reality that I’ve been dealing with is the fact that I’ve been trying to write this story for over forty years, but never had an ending until now. Another hard reality is that Pine Lake is really just a pond. And it isn’t even a very large pond.
Pine Lake is actually a small pond in an abandoned corn-field surrounded by red-clay mud. About a hundred and fifty yards up the hill from this optimistically-named natural body of water is an old in-ground concrete swimming-pool, a remnant of a long-gone motel deemed irrelevant by the bypass. But bypass or no, Pine Lake was the uncontested summertime mecca to several generations of western Pittsylvania County’s finest.
One summer Saturday afternoon when I was six or seven in 1966, my family descended upon Pine Lake. My mother, her mother and father, my mother’s younger sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, in-laws, outlaws, my siblings, first and second cousins, third cousins, my dad, his dad, and I took over the destination in its entirety. Half of us attempted to splash all of the water out of the pool while my two uncles on my mother’s side backed up their truck and put their homemade motorboat into the lake down the hill.
My father was lighting a charcoal grill, grinning from ear to ear. As my mother double-coated my back with lotion, I heard my uncles down at the lake roar in approval as they successfully started up their motorboat. I broke free from my mother’s clutches and bounded down to the belching boat bobbing up and down in the red-brown water.
My teenaged uncles, Dallas and Charles, were looking quite pleased by the fruits of their efforts. They had been on a mission for over two years to construct a motorboat, put it in the water at Pine Lake, and water ski. The summer before they had rigged-up an oversized outboard motor to an old wooden canoe. That motor had also started right up. But Dallas and Charles hadn’t quite worked out the details of a functional rudder or a kill switch. So when they fired up the motor, the canoe shot straight across the lake with them in it, hit the bank at full-speed and cut a foot-deep groove in the red-clay beach that ran fifty yards down the hill to where the canoe finally came to its final resting place.
As nearly a quarter of the water in Pine Lake drained away downhill through the foot-deep ditch cut by the runaway boat, the engine then exploded. What was left of the canoe and gasoline had burned well into the evening. Uncles Dallas and Charles escaped with some burns and abrasions.  Lessons learned. This time around, their boat had all of the amenities, including steering, a kill switch and a rudder.
“Who wants to be first?” Uncle Dallas threw out the tow line into the water.
I immediately leaped into Pine Lake. I ran out towards the tow-line that was visible in the water behind the boat. When the water got over my head I attempted to swim. I couldn’t swim. I reckon the water was about four feet deep and that was just a couple of inches deeper than I was. I was down in that murky water ham-paddling nowhere for what seemed like a week. Uncle Dallas finally pulled me up sputtering and shooting water out of my nose.
Dallas said “Here, you wild thing. Put these on.” Then he helped me put on a faded orange life-vest and a pair of skis. After some brief instructions the rudder was dropped, anchor hove, steering wheel buried hard-left and the slack was taken out of the towline.
Uncle Charles goosed the motor while Uncle Dallas simultaneously let go of me and I was up . . . skiing! And then I was down . . .  underwater . .  .
above the water . . . on the water . . . refusing to let go of the handle of the towline.
We circumnavigated Pine Lake exactly three times before I was beached. Still refusing to let go of the tow-line, I circumnavigated the bank of Pine Lake once more and then skittered off down the hill following a similar trajectory to that of the previous year’s ill-fated canoe, where I came to rest at the base of an elm tree and just lay there like I was dead for a while.
“Hey, kid. You’re an animal! Nice ride.” Dallas helped me to my feet and removed my life vest. “Get in line and you can have another ride later.”
There was a line of people, young and old, family, friend and strangers queued-up for a chance to water-ski in Pine Lake behind Dallas and Charles’ homemade motorboat. I just stood there for a while and watched the procession and listened. They had gleaned much from that initial ride that I’d taken. The water was about four-feet deep so they put out four and a half feet of rudder, and basically just let the boat spin around like a top in the middle of the lake.
The more experienced skiers were getting more like four times around the lake before getting beached. It looked like a long wait to get another chance to ski, so I started walking back around Pine Lake towards the uphill side. I was covered in red-clay mud and needed to rinse-off. I considered a dip in the lake but the motor-boat and skiers made that difficult. Plus, the lake’s water, naturally reddish brown, was taking-on a darker, oily hue. I decided to rinse off in the pool.
I scrambled up the hillside from the lake and jumped into the pool in the shallow end. As soon as I hit the water people started screaming!
“He’s filthy! Get him
out! Eeewww!”
A brown cloud spread-out from my body and filled the shallow end. I could smell and taste the lake water and local mud mixed with what was left of my sunscreen and various ointments as they dissolved into the pool water, which tasted better than it looked. The nasty comments from family and strangers continued.
“Get him out! Gross! Geez.”
It wasn’t as if the water in the pool was pristine before I got in. Then my mother jerked me up out of the pool by my arm and stood me up on the pool’s deck.
“Go over there to the shower and clean-off before you get back in this pool! You hear me?”
I hated to disappoint my Mama and started trudging around the deep end of the pool toward the shower, which was a garden-hose tied to the top of a two-by-four which was stuck in the clay. The sun came out from behind a cloud and its sudden brilliance blinded me. I had to avert my eyes, and looked down at the murky red water-cloud that I’d contributed to the shallow end as it reached the deep end, lending a clarifying background hue to the reflection in the water.
In the reflection I could clearly see him. He was standing on the concrete deck across the deep end of the pool from me. It was a monkey boy!
 I was gob-smacked. Stunned. Time stood still. The monkey boy met my gaze as we both stared at his reflection on the water. He looked to be about my height and was covered from head-to-toe in a fine, reddish fur and wearing a special monkey diaper that allowed his little tail to breathe and wiggle around. I was mesmerized by his twitchy movements that seemed to mimic my thoughts.
“Comment allez-vous?”
The monkey boy spoke French! Although I didn’t recognize the words I could intuit the context. But before I could answer the monkey boy’s query, my mother had me by the elbow and was dragging me away. “Time to go home!”
I protested but it was no use. I didn’t even get a chance to water ski again. Some of the locals, family and strangers alike, clapped and cheered as my mother removed me from the premises. And that’s not the first time that that
has happened.
An obsession meets the Internet
Over these long, fruitless years I have investigated every dark corner and questioned everyone that I know, repeatedly. Nothing solid. Just lies, innuendo and more lies. I’ve knocked on doors, put ads in the paper, visited internet chat rooms, tweeted, twerked, Tindered, Face-timed, Snap-chatted, Snack-chatted, Facebooked, Fakebooked, I even launched a commercial website www.zazzle.com/monkeyboyofpinelakewhere you can buy Monkey boy merchandise, and hopefully aid me in my quest for answers.
I even got into politics without knowing it. A local candidate was having a rally and a bunch of folks were wearing Monkey Boy teeshirts, and somebody yelled “Do you b’leev in the Monkey Boy of Pine Lake?” The candidate replied “Nawwwww. There ‘aint no Monkey Boy of Pine Lake! Never was and never will be!”
They booed him off of the stage and he lost the election.  And I’ve gotten a couple of “hot leads,” but nothing has ever turned out to be the Monkey Boy of Pine Lake. I will surely know him when I see him again. I can guarantee you that.
Since that life altering encounter across the deep end at Pine Lake, 50-some-odd years hence, I have received little solace as I’ve drifted like a refugee from hint to clue. Many of my older relatives that might have had first hand knowledge as to my life’s answers are now departed. And now, our old, ancestral family home is boarded-up and everyone has
moved away.
The Secret Cellar
Recently, after a long absence from the fold, I attended a family reunion in North Carolina. The after-dinner conversation inevitably came around to the Monkey Boy of Pine Lake. Those relatives that were old enough to be familiar with the story were still denying it. The younger, more educated crowd were ambiguous. And the younger set were all ears. Nothing new here. Denials and digressions. But then Uncle Dallas, who’s somehow survived more than just one canoe explosion to become the Pater-familias, offered-up an
absolute gem!
“I do seem to recall,” Dallas began, ensconced in a deck sofa, surrounded by family and sipping the remnants of an iced Scotch. “There was a rich
family that lived in a big, white house up-the-hill-a-ways from Pine Lake.”
“Yeah.”
“Yeah, I remember that house.”
“Yea”
Uncle Dallas continued. “I know for a fact that those people kept pet monkeys. Treated ‘em like family. Those monkeys used to tear that nice place apart. And the bigger monkey did wear a diaper.”
Dallas seemed as sincere as I’d ever seen him.
“Is that really true?” asked a first cousin’s wife.
“Sure, that’s true.” Dallas nodded. “And that’s what you saw that day, Nephew. It was them rich people’s big monkey. And I remember that monkey had a little tail, too.”
“Yeah, I remember that
big monkey.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Yeah, that’s what you saw. It was them rich people’s
big monkey.”
Something didn’t jive here. I’d never heard this story before. “Why now?” My head swam. I’d asked this same crew for answers a hundred times. It was some vast conspiracy, spanning generations. Then a vital clue popped into my head. “But, The Monkey Boy of Pine Lake spoke French!” I blurted. “How do you explain that?”
Uncle Dallas replied calmly and authoritatively “Those rich people were French. ‘LeFleur,’ I believe it was. That’s why that big monkey of theirs
spoke French.”
A stone in every pathway. I felt sick and needed to sit down. The festive gathering continued without my further input as I struggled to keep my composure. This was my biological family, and I couldn’t trust anyone.
Maybe an hour passed. Uncle Dallas found me, and whispered in my ear, “The monkey story was just a smokescreen.” Dallas looked me squarely in the eyes. He was serious. “Go back to your old family home. It’s all boarded up.”
“I know.” I replied.
“Well, there are some other things that you need to know. Those things are hidden away in the secret cellar underneath of that house.”
“Secret cellar?”
“Be quiet and listen!” Uncle Dallas clutched my shoulder and looked around suspiciously. He had been a butcher by trade and his hands were still strong from his life’s work. “There’s a crawl-space opening around back behind the azaleas. Bring a flashlight. You gotta crawl to your left and go three right turns around the original foundation and then you’ll see the stairs down. The door is open. You’ll find out everything that you want to know. Now, that’s it. It’s done. I don’t ever want to hear about the Monkey Boy of Pine Lake EVER AGAIN!” Dallas turned away quickly and
was gone.
And as of this writing I have not seen or heard from
him again.
Return to Pine Lake and the old homestead
On my way back home from the reunion, I rerouted through western Pittsylvania County. First I drove out to Pine Lake, parked and walked around. It actually looked much the same as it did fifty years ago, but smaller, abandoned and derelict. I stood on what was left of the crumbling concrete pool deck, looking across the deep end to where I’d seen the Monkey Boy of Pine Lake so many years before. It was about the same time of day as that original encounter. The sun was high in the sky, blinding me. I had to divert my eyes downward to the surface of the dirty water in the deep end. I could see my own reflection.
I looked around what was left of Pine Lake a little more, reminiscing and searching for memories, and then got back in my car and drove over to the old-family home, down the Blair Loop Road off of Westover Drive. I parked, grabbed my flashlight, walked around back, and found the crawl space door behind the over-grown azaleas.
I lifted the latch, swung open the door, turned on my flashlight, swatted away years of cobwebs, and crawled under the old house.
It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the harsh beam of my flashlight juxtaposed with the otherwise total darkness. I crawled on my hands and knees and struggled to follow Uncle Dallas’ instructions. The
passage way was narrow and rocky. “Three rights.” It was stifling. My knees and hands hurt. Cobwebs were everywhere. I was hoping not to meet up with a snake.
At last I rounded a third corner of the original foundation. And there it was! A narrow stone stairway down to the dank opening of the old home’s original cellar.
I took a deep breath. The dank air was dead and stale. I made my way down the steep, narrow stairs, pushed aside the old wooden-plank door and stepped inside. A quick flashlight sweep of the carved-out stone walls revealed no major menace or surprises. There were several broken things and an old, rusted boiler. There was a rickety shelf with one Mason jar and an old seaman’s trunk covered in decades of dust.
I tried to remember if Uncle Dallas had given me any clues that I’d forgotten. I couldn’t remember anything. I swept the flashlight over the walls again. Then the ceiling and floor.  Nothing new immediately jumped to my attention. I was a little bit relieved. And a little bit disappointed.
Again I shone my light on the Mason jar up on top of the rickety, wooden shelf. It was two-thirds filled with a pale, yellowish liquid. There was something submerged in the liquid, and I strained to see what it was. The shelf on which the jar was resting was too high for me to reach. “If it would just float to the top of the jar I could see what it is.” I thought. Then the object in the liquid floated to the top of the jar!
Instantaneously I had to tend to an itch at the base of my spine and my flashlight beam fell away as I scratched myself. The beam of light fell upon the ancient seaman’s trunk. There was no lock, on it so I opened it up. There was no pirate’s treasure inside. Only neatly filed papers. They were medical bills for expensive ointments and lotions. And electrolysis treatments. There was also a medical journal with a page marker. I opened the book to the marked page and read the highlighted words. “At any time, any mother can birth offspring with mutations that reveal traits of any ancestor along their
evolutionary tree.”
“What could it mean?” I put the papers back in the trunk, dragged the trunk over to the high, rickety shelf, climbed-up on top and retrieved the Mason jar. I carefully climbed-down from the trunk, set the jar down on a low ledge of the stone wall and retrained my light on whatever it was that was inside.
I stared at it for a while, but did not fully comprehend. It looked like a skinny, little pickle covered with fine, red hair. I jiggled the Mason jar with one hand while I held the light with my other. When the hairy, little pickle jiggled in the amber brine the itch returned to the base of my spine. Realization began to descend upon me, and my entire world began crashing down. All of the denials, deceits, and outright lies cascaded through my mind like an avalanche of pain, doubt, and disbelief. All of these many years, my family, the lying, denying lot of them, had only been trying to protect me.
I must have passed out for a while. When I awoke, I was lying flat on my back on the cool stone floor of the secret cellar. It was dark as pitch. My flash-light batteries were completely dead. I crawled out and up the stairs of the hidden cellar, reversed directions, made three lefts, and finally found the door to the crawlspace. I retrieved a pack of matches and some fresh flash-light batteries from the glove-box of my car and went back to re-enter the
secret cellar.
I wanted to retrieve the treasures of my life’s sojourn. As I re-entered the crawlspace behind the azaleas I lit a match. It burned-out quickly so I threw it down and lit another. The light from the second match revealed that the first match that I’d tossed had landed on an old rag. The smelly old rag ignited and I could now see the solvent can near the flames! I scrambled out and away from the old, frame house as it was quickly engulfed by fire. I had to move my car to keep it from also being lost and just kept on driving. I could hear the wailing of the fire-trucks and police cars as I took the backroads home, where I immediately sat down to finish this story.
Epilogue
Thank you, Uncle Dallas, should you ever read this, for helping me to finally lay to rest the quest that had so consumed me. But while I finally have an ending for my story I still lack closure. Now I have an entirely new scenario to ponder and for future reference I will set aside my books by Darwin, and crack open the Pavlov. For every time I hear the wail of ambulance, fire truck, or police car sirens, I have to scratch an itch at the base of my spine.

As the Crow Flies

Grassland Nesting Birds Are Disappearing!

Story and illustration by Doug Pifer
Eastern meadowlarks used to be common birds in local hayfields, and their songs drifted across the fields in the early summer air. Now they’re on a growing list of field nesting birds — bobwhite quail, vesper sparrow, American kestrel, and red-winged blackbird — whose numbers have seriously dropped. Now you can drive though the countryside and never see any
of them!
In 2015 the Potomac Valley Audubon Society (PVAS) launched its Grassland Birds Initiative. The first property to enroll was Claymont Farm. As of this month, a total of nine properties in the Potomac Valley participate, according to PVAS executive director Kristin Alexander.
Last summer, I enrolled our two hayfields as designated grassland bird habitat. My wife and I have been managing our property for wildlife since we bought the place in 2016. Until recently, I believed we were encouraging grassland birds by allowing natural vegetation to grow in our fencerows and rock breaks, and mowing only once a year, late in the season. Since enrolling in the Grassland Birds Initiative, I’ve learned this isn’t enough. In fact, studies show that long fence lines of trees, shrubs and vegetation that separate and constrict open fields offer predators like feral cats and red foxes easier access to any birds living in the fields, hampering their nesting success and adding to the problem.
Better strategies include allowing certain parts of a field to go un-mowed for more than one year instead of cutting the whole field. PVAS cites a large field in the Steamboat Run area near Shepherdstown as a prime example. They cut some of their hayfields only once a year on a rotating basis, while leaving others uncut for a couple of years. Birds nesting there have increased to levels that were never seen when they mowed everything yearly.
Farmers used to allow their fencerows to grow up, and would let certain fields lay fallow for a year or two to “rest the soil” and allow nitrogen to build up. Today’s more intensive agriculture requires all the land to be used. This means maintaining “clean” fencerows and applying additional chemical fertilizer to make up for the depleted elements in the soil. This also means added expense.
A better conservation practice, and one farmers are now starting to adopt, is to sow warm season grasses in fields that would formerly be allowed to grow up or lay fallow. Native grasses like big bluestem, Indian grass, fowl manna grass, switchgrass, muhly grass, and Eastern gamma grass can be cut for hay. But, unlike annual cool season forage grasses, they develop perennial hummocks of vegetation that offer grassland birds year-round protection: hiding places in winter, summer nesting places, and autumn food in the form of seed.
Results of these programs show an increase in field nesting birds and other wildlife. Fields planted in native warm season grasses attract more beneficial insects, such as bees, butterflies, and dragonflies. Turtles, non-poisonous snakes, toads, and frogs also find more food and places to hide in such fields.
I’m encouraging my neighbors to join us in creating more grassland wildlife habitat. You can improve your own backyard, even if it’s under an acre. Maybe you’re tired of weekly mowing — or of paying somebody else to do it. Instead, you could transform it into a beautiful, more bird-friendly place. Contact the Potomac Valley Audubon Society at www.potomacaudubon.org to learn more about the Grassland Birds Initiative and about Habitat Certification for smaller properties, a new program they launched
this spring.

Seamstresses, Blacksmiths, and Good Ole Times

Clarke County Historical Association to present
3rd Annual Colonial Kids Day July 21
 
 
The Clarke County Historical Association is pleased to present the third annual Colonial Kids Day at the Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood on Saturday, July 21 from 10am to 4pm. Kids are invited to learn how daily life was lived in the colonial era. The day will include a wide range of hands-on activities such as scavenger hunts, craft making and more.
Kids can learn about blacksmithing, seamstressing, and watch colonial reenactors set up camp. The demonstrations will transport them back into time where cell phones, computers, laptops, tablets and many more technological advancements did not exist. They will play fun interactive games that require the finest hand-eye coordination.
Participants can watch a seamstress make the most
intricate patterns and beautiful gowns, and a blacksmith who takes pride in his work and shows it off as if every piece he makes is his best. The reenactors will show how soldiers dressed, felt, and fought  in the hardest of times.
Colonial Kids Day, sponsored by the Locke Store, is an informative day where kids get to have fun and learn a little along the way. Tickets are $5 per child and can be purchased at the door or
online at clarkehistory.org/events.  For more information, call 540-955-2600 or email
director@clarkehistory.org.
About Clarke County Historical Association: Founded in 1939, the Clarke County Historical Association (CCHA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to preserving the history of Clarke County. Their offices are located in the historic Coiner House at 32 E. Main Street in Berryville. The CCHA’s mission is to help preserve the historical resources and records of Clarke County and to foster their use, understanding, and enjoyment through stewardship and education.
Also located in the Coiner House is a museum, genealogy research library, and an extensive archive of historical material relating to Clarke County and the northern
Shenandoah Valley.
CCHA also owns the Burwell-Morgan Mill, a fully operational 18th century grist mill located in nearby Millwood.  Their volunteer millers grind a variety of grains as well as give tours of this historic site every Saturday from May through November.

Thirsty

A memoir by Keith Patterson
I was alone and out of water, pedaling my beat-up road-bike in the high-desert badlands near the border of western Colorado and Utah. It had been 113 degrees Fahrenheit before sunrise that morning at the lone gas station in the last town some 50 miles behind me to the east. The sun was directly over my head, and I figured it to be around noon.
The oppressive heat had only increased and was beginning to feel deadly. I was looking for a town or a gas station or any sign of human life. I had already pedaled at least 50 miles so far that morning and at least ten miles since I’d swallowed my last drop of water. I began cramping from dehydration, and let my bike drift to a stop in the middle of the baking blacktop.
As I cupped my hands above my brow and scanned the unforgiving panorama, I could see for many miles in every direction. There was nothing moving anywhere. I had been counting heavily on there being a town right there where I was straddling my ten-speed in the middle of the road. “YOW!” Searing pain in my feet alerted me that the rubber soles of my shoes were melting!
I shambled off of the oven-like asphalt onto the relative safety of the road’s shoulder. I dropped my bike and hopped from foot to burning foot. I opened one pannier, took out my two books and placed them on the ground. I removed my melting shoes and my socks came off with them. I stood on the books to protect my bare feet from the scorched sandstone roadbed and with my left foot set firmly on the Tao Te Ching and old King James protecting the heel of my right. I tried to catch my breath, clear my head and assess my situation.
I peered back down the road from whence I’d come. There was no sign of my cycling partner, Ted Aschenbrenner. He was carrying more water than me, and I had gotten way out in front of him because of my lighter load. After a month pedaling on the open road and several consecutive days laboring in desert drought conditions, Ted and I had figured-out that we each needed to carry an extra gallon of drinking water, in addition to our clip-on water-bottles, to pedal 40 miles. The first three days since we’d left the relative comforts of a K.O.A. campground in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, we had found another town before running out of our water supplies. That morning, as we consulted Ted’s map before embarking on the day’s leg of our cross-country journey, Ted said. “There’s no town for a hundred miles. I’m gonna carry two extra gallons of water with me today, and you’d better do it too.”
“Let me see that.” I said.
Ted relinquished the worn, stained Colorado road map. We weren’t sure if the road we were on was even on this map.
“Dude, there’s no town for a hundred miles,” he repeated.
I scratched at the map and uncovered a dot on the grid about where we wanted to go.
“Dude, that’s a piece of grease from the chicken wings we had in Steamboat Springs last week. That’s no town. You better carry two gallons. I’m not sharing.” Ted was serious. He tied down his two extra gallons of water, mounted his over-burdened ten-speed and wobbled off onto the black-top headed west with or without me. I made my decision concerning my supplies, tied down, mounted up and started out pedaling after Ted, who was struggling with his two extra gallons of water a hundred yards ahead.
My decision to carry only one extra gallon paid early dividends as I was able to find a rhythm to my pedal stroke and easily over take Ted, who was understandably hampered. As I passed him by, Ted grumbled, “I’m not sharing my water. You better go back and get more.”
“I’ll save you a seat at the lunch counter,” I replied as I pedaled by.
At least four hours and 50 miles had passed by since I’d seen or spoken to Ted. I was out of water. Ted was at least twenty miles behind me. There was no lunch counter, gas station or any other sign of comfort anywhere in sight. And I couldn’t just stand there, forever, on the side of the road, balanced between Lao Tsu and Saul of Tarsus.
“Ted must have stopped early for lunch” I surmised. I needed to make a decision. And it looked, to me, like I only had three choices. I could keep moving forward. I could go back from where I’d come, or I could stay put. I didn’t have the energy to go anywhere without some water, shelter, and rest. I decided to stay put and wait for Ted or a passing car to save me.
I put my still-smoldering shoes back on and then noticed the ruined first course of an old block structure across the road so I rolled my bike over and propped it up against the broken block. I stretched my jacket and shirt over the frame of my bike and crouched down under it, leaning my bare back against the block as I sat on my books and attempted to piece together the decisions that had put me in this predicament.
The Aschenbrenner brothers, Ted and Dan, had planned and trained for this cross-country bike trip for months. A deal gone south had convinced me to jump in at the last minute, and off we went, from the waterfront of Alexandria, Virginia, headed west towards adventure and glory. Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Mountains ruined Dan’s right knee and we had to leave him in Radford, Virginia to recuperate. Ted and I continued west, grinding through Appalachia and out into the heartland, counting corn through Kansas and then conquering the Rocky Mountains in Northern Colorado.
We summited Trail Ridge Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass, the tallest paved roads in the continental United States, and then cruised down from altitude into Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where we met a pretty girl in a V.W. bus named Mona and got into a tussle in a cantina from which we were forcibly removed by some of the local gentry.
“WHOOOOOSH! A pick-up truck drove right past where I was crouched under my makeshift shelter! I was so deep in my thoughts that I didn’t hear it coming. I jumped up and waved my arms and tried to yell! I could only croak. I felt skin on my lower-back tear away, stuck to the fossil concrete. Someone in the back of the passing truck yelled “JERK!” and tossed off a couple of beer cans. I recognized his face and voice from the fracas in the saloon in Steamboat Springs a few nights back. I quit waving my arms as the truck bounced off into the distance and walked my bike along the shoulder of the road towards the beer cans that were thrown from the back of the pick-up.
I tried not to get my hopes up that the cans were full of cold beer. The two cans of PBR were empty except for scant warm backwash which I poured at my throat and it wasn’t enough liquid to pry my tongue off of the roof of my mouth. I blinked my squinted eyes and noticed a small cloud south of me up in the endless, pale blue sky. The cloud was peculiar looking and left a trail that reached down to the horizon-line which was obscured by some scrub pines. “Smoke!” I looked down and noticed what could be a rough driveway that led down into a ravine and south into the scrub pine. Again I carefully scanned both east and west. There was no Ted and no traffic of any kind coming my way. It was time to make a decision and it needed to be the right decision.  My brain was feeling the effects of heat exhaustion and making good decisions would only get more difficult unless I found some water and shelter. I decided to follow the smoke and hoped that it was coming from a ranch-house cook fire and wasn’t just a strange cloud.
The would-be driveway was rough and uneven at best, or just a washed out ravine. I had to walk my bike. With every step I took I worried that Ted or a saving passer-by would pass me by out on the road and nobody’d never know it. I kept on moving south deeper into the depths of the rough scrub. The further away from the road I got the further away the smoke seemed to be.
The ravine was rough, and I knew that my already damaged tires and un-trued rims were getting worse with every jolt and twisted turn. I considered reversing course with every difficult step but I kept on trudging, further away from the paved road and deeper into the ravine. I lost count at two thousand steps, and then lost track of the wisp of smoke that I’d been following; I became disoriented. My already desperate hopes went to a deeper place. A lone tear drop partially cleared one of my dust-choked eyes just enough, and then I saw it, a small dirt-colored farmhouse with smoke coming out of the chimney, about thirty yards away!
I hustled towards my savior’s humble mansion and tried to call-out a welcome but all that came from my parched throat was a hoarse croak. I approached the front porch of the house, leaned my bike against the corner post, took two-steps as one and pounded on the front-door as politely as I could.
No answer. I pounded again, less politely.
Still no answer.
I was thirsty and I didn’t knock again. I looked for a rock or something with which to break a window and get in the dwelling. Seeing nothing within reach, I thought of a suitable object and spun around to retrieve my tire pump and came face-to-face with a double-barreled shotgun in the hands of a grizzled, filthy-looking rancher.
“What the heck are you doing out here?” he hollered.
“I… I… “ My voice was just a whisper. “I’m… bicycling…  across… America! I’m out… of … water…”
The leather-faced farmer looked me up and down in a flash of cold, blue eyes. “Well you’re crazier’n you look! Now get the heck off’a my porch!” The farmer waved that shotgun in my face. My grandfather had a gun just like it, and I could tell that the gun wasn’t cocked.
“Please, Sir,” I pleaded. “I just need a small drink of water… dishwater… bathwater… any water.”
“BATHWATER?” said the farmer, sarcastically. Then his tone got deadly serious. “My cattle are dead and dying. My children have not had a bath in over a month. It ain’t rained yet this year. You ain’t getting’ any water here, boy. Get it through your head. There’s some water in the next town down the way. You look like you can make it another forty miles. Now get the heck off’a my porch and off’a my property.” The rancher continued waving the barrel in my face.
I knew that the model of the shotgun whose barrel was two feet from my nose was difficult to cock. I calculated the fraction of a second that it would take the farmer to manipulate the double side-cocking hammer and prepared to make my move to snatch the gun and get some water… because I was thirsty. The farmer and I locked eyes. He saw what I was thinking and cocked the gun. I stopped calculating.
“You get the heck off’a my porch . . . NOW! I swear it  . . .  I’ll bury you, boy.”
I complied and backed off the porch.
“Don’t you even look at me, boy . . . and not one word, I swear it! I’ll bury you!”
The rancher didn’t have to tell me again. That model shotgun was difficult to cock, but had a hair-trigger.
It was all uphill as I hauled my bike back out to the blacktop from my fruitless misadventure. I was beyond tears. I was beyond desperate. I was crushed, physically and emotionally. Each step was further than I thought that I could go.
I found a low place that I hadn’t noticed on the way in and stopped. There seemed to be moisture down in a crack too small for my hand. I reached in my pocket and retrieved one of my two pieces of folding money and stuffed the twenty-dollar note down into the crack to soak-up the moisture. That’s when I heard the snake’s rattle! I left my greenback imbedded in the crack and jumped out of that low place like a scared rabbit, dragging my bike unceremoniously behind me until I finally dragged myself back out to the baking pavement where the merciless sun was a little further to the west. I had forty miles to pedal with the sun in my face and a headwind from the Northwest beginning to kick-up. I looked back towards the east and thought that I saw some movement. Something was moving towards me at a leisurely pace from a great distance. Then it separated from the horizon and revealed itself to be a low-flying thing. As it got closer I realized that it was many flying things. And then a flock of vultures flopped to the earth about a hundred and fifty yards away. I didn’t like the looks of the creatures, and there was no sign of Ted, so I got back on my beat-up road bike and started pedaling.
It was a brutal slog. My body and brain, with deep cuts to process and function, were forced to work independently of each other as I careened west towards the afternoon desert sun. I knew that I was down to two choices now. I could keep pedaling or stop to die.  About every mile or three those buzzards would take to the air and flop about a half-a-mile ahead of me. I just kept pedaling.
Through the fog and misery of early onset heat stroke, my lizard-brain reflex took over and began to sync up the rhythm of my body’s various aches, cramps and injuries with the regular grindings of dust-clumped gears’ “cring cring cring” and the droning bumping “wumpa-wap-wap… wumpa-wap-wap” of my badly-bent front-rim. I could not open my mouth as my lips were stuck together. I could not really think because my fried brain pain was shutting down nonessentials.
Random thoughts flew by like note-cards in a tempest. The sun was in my eyes. My eyes were closed. I navigated by the shadows through my eyelids. My conscious mind was scorched clean of all pre-condition and I stepped on through and glimpsed the dawning of this universe from the Singularity that followed the collapse of the universe before this one… “And when the Three Arrows of Time intersect at the Coming Singularity, Time = Consciousness. Consciousness x Energy, which is freed from equaling MC2 by the collapse of the Physical Universe = The Mind of God. And if Einstein, Heisenberg, Hawking and old Saul are even remotely correct, the Mind of God is searching to know the mind of His god . . . .”
Beyond all thought patterns recognized by humans is the primordial response. Through the crust of my eyelids I could see that the buzzards, lulled to sleep by the regular rhythms of my grinding monotony, failed to take flight as I approached broadside of them. I snatched my tire pump and leaped from my wounded metal steed. I would bash the brains of the nearest vulture and bite a hole in his neck from which to drain its carcass of all useful fluids!  As my feet hit the ground my weapon was raised above my head and I was bent on mayhem! But my body would not respond to the instruction of its lizard overlord, and my cramped and depleted body crumpled down face-first into the dirt and scrabble. The buzzards, twenty yards away, didn’t budge an inch. They had been here before.
I lay there for a long, hard moment. The surface temperature of the dirt in which my face rested was a little bit less scorching than I had expected. I lay there, with my face in the dirt, and cooled off for a long moment. When I finally raised my head up off of the ground I caught glimpse of a green road sign about a half-mile up ahead. I slowly remounted my bike and struggled on.  The sign came into focus. “Dinosaur, Utah, 10 miles.”
You never really know what you can do until you have to do it. I had already pedaled at least eighty miles so far that brutally hot day, the last forty without water. I knew that I had another ten miles in me.
I rolled into Dinosaur five minutes before McDonalds, the only restaurant in town, closed its doors for the night. I had one piece of folding money in my pocket and some change. A dollar seventy-eight got me some fries and a coke, and I
was saved!
I maxed out my free drink refill quota before the staff asked me to leave so they could lock up, then I ambled on over to the K.O.A. campground just down the street. I could see Ted’s bike, but no Ted. I recognized a V.W. van parked next to Ted’s bike. It was Mona’s — the young woman that we’d met in Steamboat Springs several days before.
Then it started raining, cold, hard rain, the first rain in six months. The campground’s bathroom door was locked and I had given up my tent the week before in order to carry extra water. So I placed a piece of plastic over a picnic table and hunkered down. In between peals of thunder I could hear Ted and Mona in the camper. They were playing Yahtzee! And Mona was winning.